Last year, Duane and Jodi spent some time in Norway and while there they talked to Klaus Thorsen from Estate Coffee in Copenhagen about the idea of doing a Barista Exchange. Their idea was that Klaus would come here to Stumptown and work for us for a bit - and then Stumptown would send someone from here to work at Estate Coffee in exchange.
I, personally, love the idea of a Barista Exchange. I think that baristas and companies could learn a huge amount from this sort of program - and that there could be some opportunities that would arise from a partnership like this that would be super cool. We're all trying to get to the same end point, and all facing many of the same problems, challenges and issues. If we start collaborating on solutions we all won't have to invent the wheel independently of eachother - over and over again.
Anyway... when I was sent to the Nordic Barista Cup, one of the tasks that Jodi and I were given was to finalize the details for the initial Exchange. Both of us talked to Klaus, everyone was positive. And then months of email exchanges followed to nail down the details. In the end it was decided that Klaus would come here after the World Barista Championship.
It was really exciting to me. Klaus is not only a really good guy - he's also an incredible barista (finished third in the 2004 WBC) and is very passionate and knowledgable when it comes to coffee. Estate Coffee is a really cool company that's doing some of the stuff we're doing when it comes to quality and coffee focus but is also doing some things differently in terms of drink prep and cafe style. Looking at all of this - he seemed like a great fit for the program and someone we could really learn from.
So... Klaus has now gone back to Denmark.
I'm still processing but there is no doubt in my mind that this was a huge experience for us. It more than lived up to all expectations and has gone a long way towards proving my theory that Barista Exchanges are very important, valuable tools for quality focused coffee companies.
Klaus spent some time doing a truncated version of the usual new employee training (with added heckling by Duane, Jodi and me) and then did a guided and in-detail tour of the business with me.
And then we threw him straight into the fire with a downtown morning shift. It was busy and he totally kept up. His drinks were good, he worked very well with everyone else - he was a big asset. Klaus had a great time - he enjoyed himself and said he learned a lot from the crew working. At the end of the day he came out and did one of our employee cuppings with the baristas. I think this was a real eye-opener for him. I don't know of other companies out there who cup coffee as often and aggressively as we do - and I think it shows in the cupping skills of our baristas.
Next day was his day to spend with the Roasters. First a couple hours with Duane on the 15kilo doing small batch roasting and tutoring. Then down to the 60kilo with Jim and a whole lot of bag humping, chaff vacuuming and all the other glamourous tasks that make up the life of a roaster. I saw his notes from this day and they were... comprehensive (grin).
And then it was the weekend...
For those of you who have not been to our Belmont location on a Saturday morning, suffice it to say that it is really busy. All the time. Without a break.
And this Saturday was the Earth Day celebration at a school one block away.
I sat and watched for about one hour and the line was always at least a dozen people long.
But Klaus pulled his weight. He managed to just keep his head down and go like mad. Lizz and the baristas were all pretty damn impressed and, in fact, Lizz said it would have been a dramatically harder day if Klaus had not been there.
That night he seemed a bit worn out (grin).
And straight into a Sunday morning Division shift - another very busy shift where you just try to keep your head above water as much as possible.
By this shift Klaus had really become comfortable with the staff, the situation, the coffee and the machines. His shots were really lovely - some of the best I've tasted (verified by other staff as well).
A late night at Horse Brass (and more) to celebrate his departure and then the quick round trip drive to SeaTac airport and it was all (suddenly) over.
So what did we learn?
First - we're doing a pretty damn good job. One of the best baristas in the world has verified this. This is a good feeling.
Second - we need to keep in mind the subjective nature of coffee. Just because we might like or not like a style of coffee doesn't make it good or bad in and of itself. It's rather the execution against that style that matters.
Third - there are some things we can change or tweak to make things even better. A few of these we'd thought of and planned for, but some we'd not seen.
Fourth - our coffee is amazing.
And why was this a good thing?
Because we're learning. And we're sharing.
We're taking people from different cultures and backgrounds and styles with a common passion and goal and mixing them together to allow us to see ourselves from a different perspective - one which allows us to become better... faster.
I can't wait to see what Klaus says about all this.
And I can't wait to see what our barista learns over there.
Y'all should all do Exchanges. Do Barista Exchanges. Do Roaster Exchanges. Do Production Manager Exchanges and Service Tech exchanges.
You'll see why.